Adrian Peterson rushed for 210 yards at Green Bay the first time. He was, uh, limited to 199 yards for Minnesota in the most recent meeting.
So how much more can this man do? Will the Packers be able to finally stop him with their third try?
That’s an issue for this Saturday at Lambeau Field in a playoff game full of intriguing story lines, when the Vikings and Packers will renew their rivalry in the wild-card round. Peterson carried the Vikings into the postseason with another standout performance in Sunday’s 37-34 victory, even though the Packers continually sent a safety up to the line to crowd his running lanes as if he was on a blitz.
“They were a lot more physical in that game than they had been before,” Vikings fullback Jerome Felton said. “I think they were trying to box everything and keep it in the middle. I just remember thinking, `Man, they’re coming downhill.’ But I think we’re just such a physical team that it wears on people. So he didn’t have the 80-yard run, and he still had 200 yards rushing.”
Peterson had an 82-yard touchdown sprint on Dec. 2 during the 23-14 defeat in Green Bay, but his longest run on Sunday was 28 yards.
“I look forward to us having a better performance on defense,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Vikings, naturally, were anticipating more adjustments.
“I’m sure they’ll come up with another wrinkle when we play them again,” coach Leslie Frazier said.
One year ago on New Year’s Eve, Peterson was lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to tubes and wires with a glazed look on his face, a carton of ice cream clutched in his hand, in the first hours after reconstructive surgery on his left knee. He sent that photo of that scene on Twitter, a stark contrast to the raucous stadium he helped ignite Sunday by spinning around, racing past and running through the Packers.
He needed a franchise-record 34 carries to get to those 199 yards, but five of those attempts went for no gain and five more lost yards. That proved again just how difficult it is to stop him, given the ferocity and determination he’s running with, and the confidence with which the Vikings are blocking for him. Peterson finished 9 yards short of becoming the NFL’s all-time leading single-season rusher, but even though the total resets next season he vowed to pass Eric Dickerson someday.
“God willing, I’ll get it next year, or at least make it close,” Peterson said.
Felton, picked for the Pro Bowl for his blocking prowess after signing a one-year contract, told Peterson after Sunday’s game he’d break the record in 2013 if Felton is brought back.
All those individual accolades will be put in the background until next season, though. The playoffs are here.
“Once you get in, anything can happen. It’s been done before. There’s a precedent set for teams like this getting on a roll. Hopefully we can keep it going and become one of those teams,” left guard Charlie Johnson said.
The Vikings haven’t won an outdoor game this year, but their formula for winning is designed to work in winter: pounding Peterson into the line and relying on the defense to rack up sacks and force a turnover or two.
“When your players have an identity and they know what that identity is, they tend to think a little bit less about what some of the other implications or ramifications can be with the weather,” Frazier said. “They know mentally that this is what we are going to focus on no matter the condition. I think it has to be an advantage for you.”
Christian Ponder can’t escape responsibility, though. Coming off a three-touchdown, no-turnover game, he’ll need to complete enough third-down throws and medium-to-long-range passes to supplement Peterson’s work on the ground.
“Green Bay had to play honest. They had to respect the pass game and when we’re doing that, we’re playing balanced football, we’re a tough team to beat,” Peterson said on Sunday.
NOTES: DE Brian Robison played through a sprained right shoulder and finished the season with a career-high 8½ sacks, one of which forced a fumble by Aaron Rodgers the Vikings recovered to set up a touchdown. … Though the dates won’t be set until April, the Vikings have their 2013 opponents lined up. Beyond the usual division games, they’ll host Philadelphia (4-12 this year), Washington (10-6), Carolina (7-9), Cleveland (5-11) plus Pittsburgh (8-8) in London. They’ll travel to Dallas (8-8), the New York Giants (9-7), Seattle (11-5), Baltimore (10-6) and Cincinnati (10-6).